Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 15 December 2019

Did cloud seeding contribute to Sunday's storm?

It is next to impossible to measure the exact impact of this rain-making operation

Dark clouds filled the skies and water flooded the streets after the season’s first winter storms hit the UAE on Sunday.

A few hours earlier, pilots had taken off from Al Ain airport, firing salt flares under the base of a cloud in the hopes of increasing rainfall.

Officials said the cloud-seeding operations were performed between Saturday morning and Sunday morning.

“We just enhance the cloud,” said Khalid Al Obeidli, the head of the programme at the National Centre for Meteorology.

“We can seed as long as there are clouds and it’s suitable for seeding. We started seeding on Saturday when the [weather] system affected the UAE.”

Cloud seeding is a popular way to increase rainfall in the Emirates, where precipitation averages about 100mm a year and natural aquifers are dwindling.

Particles fired into the cloud attract water droplets, which can collide and eventually become rain. Cloud seeding can also increase the size of the cloud itself.

The NCM monitors clouds carefully and refrains from seeding operations if heavy rain is forecast to reduce the risk of floods. Most operations take place from July to September.

Social media users were quick to credit cloud seeding as the cause of the downpours on Sunday.

But was it actually responsible? We will never know.

Studies have been inconclusive and all that is known is that cloud seeding enhances rainfall. Quantifying its impact, however, is impossible.

That being said, the NCM believes that from 2001 to 2002, cloud seeding increased the amount of rainfall by 15 to 25 per cent.

We do know that heavy winter rains are typical for November.

National rainfall figures only date back to 2003 when the NCM began to keep records but oral history and traditional almanacs give detailed accounts of November rains.

Ask anyone who has lived in the UAE for a few decades and they will assure you that big winter storms, and flooding, are the norm.

Updated: November 11, 2019 02:45 PM

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